#datingscams | Romance scams – 80 people charged with ripping off millions of dollars – Naked Security


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The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday unsealed a 252-count, 145-page federal indictment charging 80 defendants – most of them Nigerian nationals – with conspiring to steal millions of dollars through online frauds that targeted businesses, the elderly and women.

Federal authorities cited the case of one of those romance-scam victims during a news conference on Thursday.

Identified only as “F.K.” in the indictment, the Japanese woman first met the fraudster who would come to bleed her of hundreds of thousands of dollars on an international social network for digital pen pals.

F.K. thought she was corresponding with a captain in the US Army captain, “Capt. Terry Garcia”, who was stationed in Syria. Over the course of 10 months, Garcia described in daily emails his scheme to smuggle diamonds out of the country.

F.K. borrowed money from her sister, her ex-husband and her friends to help out her fake boyfriend, but in the end, there were no diamonds.

She wound up $200,000 poorer and on the verge of bankruptcy. From the federal complaint:

F.K. was and is extremely depressed and angry about these losses. She began crying when discussing the way that these losses have affected her.

The indictment was unsealed after law enforcement arrested 14 defendants across the US, with 11 of those arrests taking place around Los Angeles. Two of the defendants were already in federal custody on other charges, and one was arrested earlier last week. The hunt is still on for most of the remaining defendants, who are believed to be abroad – mostly in Nigeria.

The conspirators allegedly used various online fraud schemes, including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly, to defraud victims of a total $6 million. The suspects also allegedly tried to get at another $40 million.

According to the criminal complaint, which was also unsealed on Thursday, the two heads of the conspiracy were Valentine Iro, 31, of Carson, California, and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, 38, of Gardena, California, both Nigerian citizens. They were basically brokers of bank accounts, the indictment alleges: co-conspirators would allegedly contact Iro and Igbokwe in order to set them up with bank and money-service accounts that could receive the funds they allegedly scammed out of victims.

Once the conspirators managed to talk victims into sending money, Iro and Igbokwe allegedly ran a massive money-laundering network that relied on a network of money mules who used a Nigerian banking application to transfer funds from their US bank accounts in naira (?) – the currency of Nigeria. They moved money from Nigerian bank accounts they controlled to the Nigerian bank accounts specified by Iro and Igbokwe.

The two alleged ringleaders would set up bank accounts with a specific business name, if necessary, to trick companies into making payments. Besides cooking up accounts with fake business names that mirrored the names of legitimate companies, members of the conspiracy would also routinely file fictitious business name statements with the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder’s Office. Those statements would then be presented to banks when the fake accounts were opened.

Law enforcement arrested two defendants who they claim were money mules: Jerry Ikogho, 50, of Carson, California, who was taken into custody on the Sunday preceding the unsealing of the indictment, and Adegoke Moses Ogungbe, 34, of Fontana, California.

The US is charging each of the 80 defendants with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft. A number of the defendants also face fraud and money laundering charges. Some of the defendants are also facing charges of operating illegal money transmitting businesses.

Iro, Igbokwe and Chuks Eroha, 39, are also facing charges for attempting to destroy their phones when the FBI executed a search warrant in July 2017. Iro also is charged with lying to the FBI in an interview conducted during the search. Eroha is believed to have fled to Nigeria shortly after the FBI executed the warrant.